You know you’ve reached the city of Champs Les Sims when you see the glittering, turquoise sea sparkling outside the window of your plane, the light of the sun bouncing off each tiny wave like marbles tossed onto a hardwood floor…and that was exactly what I was seeing right now.
Champs Les Sims, France. The most romantic city of them all.
Of course, me being me, I wasn’t there for the romance. Hell, I wasn’t even there for its beauty.
I was there to explore…to discover…and to feel the thrill that comes with that which has previously been unseen.
For example, underground mazes filled with treasures and hidden things that can only be found by the cleverest and bravest of adventurers.
Not that I’m calling myself the cleverest nor even the bravest…but I did find my share of wonders….
“I found your baseball,” I told Jean once I came back, the man who had sent me to the tomb in the first place.
“Really? Oh, thank goodness! I thought I would never zee it again! I would ‘ave gone to get it myself, but I’m ‘opeless with tombs. Everything ends up scaring the shit out of me.”
“No problem,” I said with a smile. “I don’t get scared easily.”
“I admire that. A woman who eez both brave and beautiful…a dangerous mix, that is for sure.” I blushed, averting my gaze and suddenly feeling very uncomfortable. I opened my mouth to say goodbye, but Jean cut in before I could utter a sound.
“Say, you wouldn’t be interested in ‘aving dinner with me, would you? I would love to ‘ave your company.”
“It would give me great pleasure.” My heart pounded and a nervous chill went through my veins that I couldn’t explain, even though I couldn’t see anything harmful about Jean at all.
“I’m sorry, I-…I’m really busy, actually,” I lied, my cheeks red with embarrassment and my legs eager to take off.
“Oh…” he said, sounding crestfallen. “Well, maybe anozer time, no?”
“Yeah, maybe,” I said quickly. “Um, au revoir!”
“Au revoir, chéri.”
My day from that point on was awkward as I suddenly became very aware of the fact that I was alone in the most romantic city in the world.
“I should have said yes,” I said quietly to myself as I poked at my cheese and fruit.
He had been handsome…kind…and definitely interested, so why had I turned him down? I sighed, trying to push my thoughts of regret out of my head and instead focus on my adventures to come.
I wasn’t here for the stupid romance; I was here for the adventure.
I just needed to remember that.
It was hard to keep that thought completely in mind though because Champs Les Sims was just too beautiful and too romantic. I couldn’t help but appreciate the calm of the night and the glow of the stars as the little French town settled down for the evening. It was, to be honest, sort of…magical.
Well, you know, except for the goddamn demon house I was sent to the following day. Oh, I know what you’re thinking: are you insane? That’s the most beautiful home I have ever seen in my entire life!!
Yes…it is beautiful. There was no doubt about that…but it was also a goddamn death trap!
Take the front door, for instance. If I hadn’t found that switch in the bushes, I would have been fried by two cleverly hidden traps that instantly smote anyone who got anywhere remotely near the door.
SOME WELCOME MAT.
The house was no better. After the discovery of the deadly welcome mat, I was paranoid about everywhere that I stepped and examined the floor for any sign of more surprises wherever I went.
It was an extremely tedious process that left me sore and paranoid….
AND I STILL GOT FUCKING ELECTROCUTED!
MORE THAN ONCE.
Thankfully, I didn’t have to be there long, because I found the stupid papers Miss Noelle wanted me to retrieve. You know, after turning on the stereo and uncovering two more PITS OF DEATH.
“I got the papers,” I said breathlessly upon my return, handing them over and getting ready to go look for a nice little adventure collecting copper pieces or something.
“I need you to go back,” Noelle said before I could move. “I think there’s more to this story than I previously thought and I know the answers are in that Chateau.”
I didn’t have to go back to that chateau once either. Noelle sent me back TWICE; once to explore the gamekeeper’s shed, and once to go back into the accursed mansion, where guess what happened?
Oh. My. Fucking. Plumbob.
I did at least get a little more skilled at finding the traps and disarming them, but that didn’t change the fact that I probably had irreversible brain damage at this point, and some of the traps couldn’t even be disarmed!
With these I had to sneak across, and let me tell you, there is no greater feeling that outsmarting one of those shitty ass traps.
“I am a golden god.” >:[
Seriously though, there was only ONE nice thing about the damned place….
It did have really comfy beds.
After escaping from the chateau from hell, I gave Noelle her papers, and promptly skipped off before she could say a word, pocketing my cash and practically running. I could hear her laughing, but it wasn’t a mean laugh. At least she realized how awful that house had been.
I headed straight back to base camp, where I took a long nap, and then a scalding shower, attempting to relax my aching body. Even after that I only really had one thought in mind though: “Damn, I could really use a drink.” Besides, I hadn’t even seen the Nectary yet, and the one here was world renowned for having some of the best nectars you could possibly buy.
So off to the Nectary I went to sample as many different nectars as I possibly could, which were basically really sweet wines.
They were AWESOME, but the downside of them being so dang sweet was that you basically downed them like candy, not realizing how much alcohol was actually in them.
But as I thought about turning that guy down again and how I was alone and how Catherine had Riley and they’d probably be getting engaged any day now and Daniel recently got married to Georgia and Mom had Dad and Jiang had his wife and goddamn it I hate that he had a wife but I don’t even know why and god this nectar tastes so fucking good that I just don’t care…..I don’t, I don’t.
And not caring just felt so good….
It felt like warm and sweet and happy and fuck you Jiang and happiness. So, so good….
And I didn’t have to be alone, no I didn’t. Guys wanted me I knew but I didn’t want them because they’re goddamn bastards but I do, I do because I feel so warm and I feel so NOT alone….
“Chéri, would you like to go upstairs?”
“Oui. We will ‘ave more privacy.”
This is wrong. This is too far, but I’m nodding and he’s smiling and his hand is around my waist and why am I walking up these stairs his touch feels nice….
“Do not be afraid, mon chéri. I will take care of you.”
“I’m never afraid.”
Never, ever, ever….
What have I done?
“Tamara, you were supposed to be back by now! Are you okay?”
“Yes,” I mumbled into the phone. “I just…I just decided to extend my trip. I’m back in China now.”
“Yeah, Shang Simla.”
“I don’t know, it’s peaceful? What the hell does it matter to you? Look, I’m fine, Catherine,” I snapped bitterly, suddenly dying to get off the phone.
“You’re going to miss Mom and Dad’s birthday!” she cried, clearly trying to guilt me into coming home at this point.
“So? They’ll get over it. They want to do something with just the two of them anyway. They won’t miss me.”
“Sure they will! In fact, we all miss you now. I can’t even remember the last time you were home, it’s been far too—”
“I know. Look, I won’t be much longer, okay? Maybe a week or so. Just know that I’m FINE! God.”
“You must think I’m stupid, Tamara. You are NOT fine. I can tell when you’re NOT fine and right now you’re definitely NOT—”
I sighed and hung up my phone, successfully cutting Catherine off mid-sentence. I felt kind of bad about it, but I needed to do it. She was driving me nuts. I was fine and that was that. Just because I ran off to China directly after my trip to France didn’t mean I wasn’t fine!!
But why China, you may be asking?
….no, I’m not kidding.
After making one of the most stupid goddamn mistakes in my entire existence, there was nothing I wanted to do more than beat the shit out of a wooden dummy. I was even getting better at it too.
I think André’s words that morning when I woke up were the true source for my inspiration: “Mmmm, Chéri, you were a much better lay than my wife ‘as evar been.”
GODDAMNITTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTT I HATE MEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
With a strangled shout, I whacked the dummy so hard that I heard a crack in my hand and cried out again, this time in pain.
“Fuck!” I hissed, cradling my hand against my chest. Hot tears welled up in my eyes, but it wasn’t because I had pretty much just broken my hand.
No. It was because I was a fucking idiot.
I hadn’t loved André. I had barely even known André…and yet I gave him one of the greatest gifts you could ever give someone you loved.
Ohh goddamn it!!!!!!!!!!!!!
….I was a golden piece of shit.
After realizing my hand was actually seriously hurt, I had to go to the market to look for something to wrap it. And well, I suppose you can guess who I saw there, even though I was hoping he worked elsewhere now.
“Tamara! It is good to see you again. It’s been awhile,” Jiang cried as soon as I walked into the store.
Goddamn it again.
“Hi,” I said quietly, averting his gaze. Somehow, seeing him made me feel even more stupid about what happened in France. “Um…do you have anything to wrap a hand in place? I hurt it,” I mumbled, feeling yet again more stupid.
“Oh? Here, let me see it…”
Before I could say anything, Jiang gently took my hand in his…an act that made my heart jump up into my throat as I jerked my hand away, panicking for no goddamn reason. UGH!
“Sorry. It- it just hurts,” I quickly said to explain my actions, nothing the confused look on Jiang’s face. His cheeks pinked slightly and he averted his gaze now, hastily taking his hand back.
“I apologize as well. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I…I think it just needs some ice. A sprain. Let me get something.” I watched as he hurriedly walked away, my heart still beating fast. For some reason, all I felt like doing now was crying.
“Well, I can’t seem to find any ice packs,” Jiang said as he came back into the main room a few moments later. “I’m afraid that–”
But his words were cut off by none other than myself as I let out a particularly loud sob. Oh, my god. Could things possibly get any worse?
“The store next door might have some!” Jiang said hurriedly, looking at me in alarm. “I-”
“It’s not that,” I cried through my tears, covering my face to hide my embarrassment. “I just…I just…everything is shit!” The room was quiet for a long moment save for my spastic, hiccough-y sobs until Jiang spoke again, almost hesitantly.
“What happened?” He asked it in a way that made me think he was afraid to know and he stood away from me, looking uncomfortable and unsure. I couldn’t blame him. We barely knew each other and here I was bawling like a baby in his store and scaring off any potential customers he might have.
I wanted to answer, but I was too ashamed. My story didn’t deserve any sympathy. The truth was, I had been stupid, got drunk, and then, depressed, lonely, and with one too many nectars in my system, I got into bed with the first guy who gave me the time of day. How fucking pathetic. So, I merely shook my head, trying to take deep breaths to calm myself, but failing miserably.
It was then that I felt Jiang’s hand on my back, his touch gentle and sympathetic. “Are you okay?” he asked, his voice full of concern now and bearing no trace of his previous uncertainty.
“I did something really stupid,” I whispered, unable to look at him.
“We all do stupid things.”
“Mine was really, really stupid.”
“We all do really, really stupid things too.”
“I was in France and feeling depressed, so I got drunk and gave my virginity to the first guy who seemed willing, just because he seemed sweet and I was lonely. Oh, and he turned out to have a wife.”
Jiang stiffened beside me and was quiet for so long that I finally just had to chance a glance at his face. He looked neither angry nor shocked like I had expected him to be, nor even disgusted, but rather…torn. Conflicted. Maybe even upset. I couldn’t make any sense of it, and for a moment I feared that I had offended him, having spoken so bluntly. After all, this was a different culture and…oh god I probably totally offended him!
“I’m sorry,” I said quickly, hastily wiping away my tears. “That was…that was inappropriate. I-I shouldn’t have said that.”
“No,” Jiang said hastily, realizing he had been quiet for too long. “It’s fine. Come, let’s go outside.”
“Yes. It’s nicer out there.”
“Okay….” I said slowly, feeling as confused as ever. I had just confessed this horrible thing that I did, and now Jiang was asking to hang out outside? What?
Completely nonplussed, I shuffled out of the store, Jiang following behind. He then took a seat on the smooth stone of the market, gesturing for me to sit as well. At that point I was so lost that I just did it unquestioningly, sitting beside him in a daze.
“I thought you could use some fresh air,” Jiang said quietly after a moment, his gaze trained up at the stars.
“I do kind of feel better,” I whispered, staring up at the stars as well. And I did. Kind of. Mostly because the only emotion I was capable of feeling right now was confusion.
“We all make mistakes. We’re human.”
“I’m not sure that makes me feel better about it though. I mean, you can say we all die, but that doesn’t make me feel better about dying,” I said, glancing over at Jiang. A smile pulled at his lips, his eyes moving to another part of the sky.
“Then I’ll say that there are no mistakes…only lessons.”
“Now I just feel like a child….”
“There’s no pleasing you, is there?” Jiang asked with a laugh then, his eyes meeting mine as he finally turned my way. They were a warm, liquid brown, shimmering in the light of the moon. They made me feel safe.
“I did a really stupid thing,” I said, looking away. Beside me, I felt Jiang turn his head too, his shoulder brushing against mine.
“You have to learn from doing stupid things. ….and you have to forgive yourself. That’s the most important thing.”
“It’s also easier said than done.”
“Whoever said important things were easy? Tamara…we can’t change the past, but we can change the future. What we do now draws our destiny, and with every decision we make, every action that we do, everything that we say, this drawing changes. Sometimes, we do things that change that drawing in ways we don’t like, but the drawing continues to shift after that point. We can still alter it, no matter how distorted it gets. The only exception to this is death.”
“I wish I could change the past,” I whispered, my eyes hot with tears again.
“But you can’t. So, barring that, what is the next best thing?”
“I don’t know….”
“What did you come here for?”
“Well, I hurt my hand while doing Sim-”
“No, I mean why did you come to China again?”
“Oh. I…I needed to get away. I…I couldn’t face my family. I needed to figure things out. I needed—”
“So that is the second best thing.”
“I suppose…but how–?”
“I can’t tell you how to find peace, but I can say that this is what you will need to discover. That is what you need to do now and it will be hard, but…well, life is hard, right?”
“Right,” I said softly. We were both quiet a long moment before I sat up, turning toward Jiang. “Hey Jiang?”
“Hmm?” he asked, sitting up as well.
“Thank you,” I whispered, placing my hand gently over his. Jiang looked for a moment like he was going to move his hand, but he instead looked up at me, giving me a half-smile.
“You’re welcome,” he replied simply.
“How did you get to be so wise, anyway?” I asked, a smile pulling at my own lips now.
“You honor me,” Jiang replied humbly. “I think it’s just…” he paused a moment, averting his gaze. “I think it happens when you have children. Puts things into perspective.”
“You have children?” I asked, my chest suddenly feeling like someone was sitting on it.
“Two,” he answered, glancing at me uncertainly. I made my face blank, mentally admonishing myself for caring about something that didn’t matter. “They teach me a lot,” he finally added with a small smile.
I returned his smile, but inside I was growing increasingly more upset, my chest feeling more and more constricted because his hand was so warm and he was so calm and nice and wonderful to be around and goddamnit because I knew then that my peace would never, ever be found in China.
Because sometimes…no matter how much you wanted it…
You never will get what you want.